Office of Student Life

Starting a Conversation

While it is very important to have open and honest conversations about drugs and alcohol, it is often not a conversation that comes naturally – especially between families and their young adults. While you might not believe your student is engaging in any alcohol and other drug use, everyone can benefit from having conversations about substance use. It is important to meet students where they are and celebrate healthy decision making. You are encouraged to take active steps to begin a healthy dialogue between you and your student.  In this section, we hope to provide tips that help you have productive conversations around alcohol and other drugs.

Things to do:

  • Invite your student to talk to you about alcohol and drugs and offer reassurance that you are not suspicious of bad behavior – the conversation is about being open, not about snooping.
  • Ask open ended questions about your student’s college experience and be direct about how alcohol and drugs may fit into their experience.
  • If your student feels like they don’t have anything to learn because they have already been educated about substance use in college – ask them to share what they have learned with you. It is a great refresher on how things might have changed in recent years.
  • Make sure you come from a place of care, wanting to understand and offer support, while also respecting your student's growing autonomy.
  • Be honest about your own use and experiences and share any relevant family history of substance misuse.
  • Help your student consider their limits, dispel myths and brainstorm together how to handle peer pressure.

Things to avoid:

  • Having a one-sided lecture, particularly focusing solely on the negatives of substance use – scare tactics often backfire.
  • Talking more than you are listening.
  • Using language that closes discussion. While holding values is important, zero tolerance language may make students not want to share if they have been experimenting.
  • Telling your student what they should think or how they should act – young adults are going to want to form their own opinions.
  • Making it a one and done conversation! Stay connected to your student and keep communication lines open about the topic of substance use.

Conversation Starters:

  • Do you know anyone who drinks a lot? How has their drinking affected them?
  • What do you think about alcohol and other drug use at college?
  • How will you decide whether or not to drink?
  • What else do you plan to do on campus besides going to parties?
  • What student groups on campus stand out to you? How do you see yourself getting involved on campus?
  • If you plan to drink, what will you do to stay safe?
  • What will you do if one of your friends or someone at a party is really drunk and getting sick?
  • What are some things you are doing to help with stress or feeling overwhelmed?